As a little girl I loved the story of Harriet Tubman.
Her story inspired me to believe that even a little girl, who is determined, can make a huge difference in the world. Her story is one of courage, bravery, determination and a burning desire to make a difference, to set things right.
She was born Araminta “Minty” Ross, a slave, on a plantation in Maryland. As long as she could remember, she dreamed of freedom. At an early age, while she attempted to protect a young fleeing slave, her overseer threw a heavy iron and hit her in the head, crushing the side of her skull. It nearly killed her. As a result, she lived with chronic headaches and narcoleptic seizures for the rest of her life. It was during that time Harriet determined that she would one day, be free. Lying sick and lifeless, a flame grew in her heart for all people to be free and she determined she would do something about it.
From that day on she never turned back.
That doesn’t mean it was easy or that she was never tempted to give up. Her own husband John Tubman, who was considered a ‘free’ man, was content with the few freedoms he had and wanted nothing to do with her freedom fight. So she enlisted her two brothers in her plans to escape. After they escaped the plantation, her brothers had second thoughts about the dark, risky path to freedom and turned back, forcing Harriet to return with them.
She didn’t give up.
Soon afterward, Harriet escaped again. This time, she left by herself, without her brothers. She walked for days on end with nothing to eat but leaves. She traveled through the night, finding her way in the dark, to avoid slave catchers.
She didn’t do it alone.
She used the network known as the Underground Railroad composed of free and enslaved blacks, white abolitionists, and other activists to finally reach freedom. They believed in her. They sheltered her, fed her, and guided her through in the darkness. They reminded her that she wasn’t alone. Once she escaped, she joined them by becoming the first female conductor on the underground railroad, leading other slaves through treachery to freedom.
She wasn’t finished.
When the Civil War broke out, she became a nurse and then a spy/strategist for the Union army. Harriet led the Combahee River Raid, which liberated more than 750 slaves and is the only military engagement in American history where a woman originated and conducted the raid.
Can you imagine the soundtrack that played in her mind? “I’m just a slave, a woman, uneducated and plagued with illness. I can’t possibly make a difference.” The names she’d been called: useless, worthless, ignorant surely echoed in her mind.
She had to choose.
Every cut on her foot, every scratch on her face, every headache, every seizure, every day without food or shelter gave her the opportunity to replay the old track or to choose to hear the truth. She choose to hear the truth of her real names: Daughter, Sister, Freedom Fighter, Abolitionist, Nurse, General, Moses, Civil War Heroine, Activist, World Changer.
Harriet led hundreds of slaves to freedom through her efforts on the underground railroad and with the Union troops during the war. She helped build a home for the black elderly who were severely marginalized. She spent her last years as an activist fighting for the rights of women, alongside women such as Susan B. Anthony and Emily Howland. Her life helped change the trajectory of our nation and she continues to inspire our generation as we look to her faith, courage and determination as an example of a beautiful HeartStory.
It didn’t matter what she looked like. It didn’t matter that she had no power. All that mattered in the end was that she dared to believe in freedom despite the story of her past.
Harriet Tubman was an ordinary person who did extraordinary things.
And what about you?
What are the old names that echo in your mind?
What are your true names that beckon you beyond the comfort of the safe and familiar?
We really want to know. Your courage will inspire others! Please share in the comments below.